At the ITBP quarantine facility in Delhi, Monday. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
“We didn't feel like we were alone. It was homely, and that touched our heart,” Peerzadh Ahmed, a 22-year-old medical student from Kashmir’s Budgam, said about the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) facility in West Delhi where he and 405 others were quarantined after being evacuated from Wuhan in China on February 1-2.
On Monday, the 406 people were given certificates saying they had tested negative for coronavirus, and were allowed to leave the facility in Chhawla. The all-clear was given after two round of tests by a team of around 45 doctors from ITBP, BSF, AIIMS, Safdarjung hospital, NCDC and others.
The group — 186 women, 209 men and 11 children — included a large number of medical students from Hubei University of Medicine in Shiyan, around 450 km from the epicentre of the epidemic.
Indians evacuated from Wuhan at an ITBP quarantine have all tested negative for the COVID19 or (Coronavirus disease 2019) and will be going back to their homes in phases. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
While two persons left the ITBP facility Monday, others are set to leave in the coming days. The ITBP has offered to provide transportation till the airport, bus terminal or railway station.
Speaking to The Indian Express, those who stepped out Monday said the situation in China seemed to be under control until January 24, when the death toll began to spike and panic spread. Fearing for their safety and survival, about 140 Indian students from the Hubei university got together and contacted the Indian Embassy.
“They told us to prepare a list of all people. We gave passport numbers, emails and other details they asked for. They made a WeChat group in which they sent specific directions, it was well planned. And then, they told us that buses will come from Wuhan to pick us up,” said Ahmed.
The centre housed a total of 406 people, including seven Maldivians. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
Food was a constant worry, though. “From January 22-26, it was quite scary because we were running out of food, and the prices were rising. The whole city was under lockdown. No one came out,” said Atul Dwivedi, a professor at Hubei university.
The situation was similar across the province, including in Yichang, where Joseph Philipose, 24, was pursuing an internship at Three Gorges University. “Medical shops were open but there were no masks. I used the same disposable mask with tissue paper. It was a risk to shop for food. I had to go to this 24x7 shop, which was open, while the rest were closed. If anybody sneezed or coughed next to us, we used to run away,” he said.
Indians after they were released from the ITBP quarantine facility at Chhawla, New Delhi, Monday. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
Vishal Khatak, 23, studying at Hubei province, said, “Even outside, we weren’t getting food, it was a terrible scene over there, we were slipping into depression.” Khatak said there was also water shortage, and though the university supervisors sent food, it was in limited supply. No one was allowed to get out of the dorms, which were locked from the outside at all times.
In Delhi, the ITBP camp turned to be a pleasant surprise for many. “The facility was of the highest standard... Everything was awesome, we were all very well taken care of,” said Siddharth Pandey, 22, a medical student from Hubei who left for his hometown in Lucknow.
With round-the-clock medical supervision and clinical tests daily, the group had to maintain a minimum of 3-feet distance from each other, and wear masks and gloves at all times. All staff and medical professionals were required to wear body-suits.
Pushkar Mishra, 21, from Hubei university, said they were checked thrice a day before the first test results came. “Till then, the atmosphere was very tense, no one was interacting with each other freely. But after the results, people loosened up,” he said.
The routine inside was set. After breakfast at 8 am, and clinical examination, many would play carrom, TT or chess at the recreation room, or watch movies on TV. “Lunch was at 12.30-1 pm, after which we would either sleep or play games or chat. Tea was from 3-3.30 pm, and the same routine continued till dinner,” said Ahmed from Budgam. Philipose said it was “too tense to study, none of us did that”.
The ITBP is also providing official vehicles to those who want to go to airport, railway stations and bus stands. (Express photo by Amit Mehra)
ITBP officials said the group was housed in a newly constructed building meant to house young jawans — and the challenge was preparing the facility in two days. “The lifts, geysers, etc., were not ready. To fully prepare the place was challenging,” said an ITBP staffer on duty.
Dr A P Joshi, the lead medical professional in-charge, said, “We did two tests. On Day 2-3 after they arrived, we sampled their nasopharyngeal swabs, sending them to ICMR-AIIMS-National Institute of Virology. They gave us the reports after 24-48 hours. We did the same exercise on February 13-14 at the end of the quarantine, and the results were negative.”